Loxwood Joust - meet a Mediaeval folk Healer

Loxwood Joust's Mediaeval Folk Healer Emily Osbourne
Loxwood Joust's Mediaeval Folk Healer Emily Osbourne

To celebrate the forthcoming Loxwood Joust we are bringing you a series of interviews with the event’s colourful characters.

The mediaeval family festival, now in its fifth year, will be held at Loxwood Meadow on the weekends of August 6&7 and 13&14.

In addition to the exciting joust and weaponry displays the festival also includes a mediaeval living history village, market place, children’s kingdom, music, and plenty of delicious food and drink.

For full details visit www.loxwoodjoust.co.uk

Emily, a Mediaeval Folk Healer:

I live in the village of Loxwood in mediaeval England. I have a knowledge of healing with herbs and prayers which was passed down to me from my grandmother. People come to see me at my cottage about their problems or I go to their house and see what can be done. I make herbal preparations for many different ailments from cough mixtures to healing salves. I use the herbs I have grown in my garden or foraged from up on the downs.

How did you become a folk healer?

The knowledge of folk healing was passed down the female line, my mother and grandmother taught me. As a woman I couldn’t go to university to learn the healing arts as the physicians did. There they learned the Greek philosophy of healing of the four humours and astrology. My education was more practical and centered around herbs, I was taught where to find herbs locally and how to prepare them.

What is my most exciting cure?

I rid a woman of a terrible malady of the head, she couldn’t leave her bed for the pain, she saw lights and visions, I prayed and burnt an incense of many herbs and the evil spirit was banished. I made her a tea of willow bark and chamomile which helped with the pain and relaxed her.

What is the strangest item you use to heal?

A snail is wonderful for healing cuts and burns, you put the snail on the wound and the slime stops the wound from suppurating and speeds the healing.

Where do you get the ingredients for the cures from?

I grow many medicinal herbs in my garden and I am always adding to this supply, here I keep plants that I can not forage for. I collect many plants from up on the downs and I have places where I know where I can find specific herbs like chamomile, yarrow, dandelion and plantain which grow especially well up there. All along the River Way is also a great place to find herbs that prefer the wet lands such as willow for my willow bark tea that is so needed after the celebrations for the holy days. I get honey from the bees I keep in my garden which is a great healer from sore throats to cuts. There are a few spices like cloves and cinnamon which come from far away by the spice trade routes and are very expensive so I do not usually get to use them.

How long did it take you to learn to be a folk healer?

I was chosen by my grandmother to learn the craft; she was the wise woman of the village and a master of folk healing. I began training very young, I was told all the names of the plants and as I got older I learned their uses. I learned by watching my grandmother working and very early on she got me to help. I would begin to help by keeping her garden and making the preparations of tinctures and creams; I would follow my grandmother on her visits to the sick villagers and watch what she did. By fourteen she trusted me to do an adult’s work and I could go round the houses on my own, I still asked for advice on many things right up until her death when I was 19.

Is there anything that you cannot cure of help with?

I cannot cure nor understand the Black Death, but I have heard that the workers in the lavender fields in France did not get the plague as they had the smell of lavender on their gloves.

Sometimes it is the will of God to take a person and if that is the case then whatever I try will not work. This is why a lot of my practice is dedicated to prayer to the patron saints of healing.

Do you provide potions for problems such as love potions?

A potion is a mixture of herbs in oil or alcohol; this is mainly to preserve it. Herbs in oil are called oil infusions and can be heated or left for a long time, the essence of the herbs transfers to the oil and I can then filter off the plant material. Oil infusions can be used for a muscle rub for sore muscles or as love potion massage oil laced with herbs with aphrodisiac properties.

Herbs in alcohol are called tinctures and are prepared by leaving the herb in the alcohol for a few weeks; the essence goes into the alcohol and can be used for cough medicines and sore throats with thyme and honey, or poor digestion with fennel and chamomile or a purgative like dandelion.

Do you ever get mistaken for a witch?

It is common for folk healers to get mistaken for witches, I have been accused many times but I have a few methods for keeping myself safe. I am sure to appear like a good Christian woman, I do not accept clients who ask me to curse anyone, I stick to healing and praying. I keep Angelica leaf otherwise known as wild celery in my cupboard which is an herb witches never use and this has helped proved my innocence. I use Angelica in cough remedies.

What do you use to deter evil spirits and witches?

Herbs can be used in different ways to protect you from evil spirits and witches. Some herbs can be planted outside the house such as Lavender, Lemon Balm; others are grown around the entrance like Honeysuckle or hung over the door as with Marigolds, St. John’s wort and Fennel. Marigolds can also strip a witch of her evil will.

Herbs can be worn in amulets or pinned to clothing to protect the wearer. Mugwort preserves the wayfarer from fatigue, sunstroke, wild beasts and evil spirits. A crown of mugwort worn on St John’s Eve will gain security from evil possession. Lungwort is used as protection against witches and evil spirits. It was known by some as the herb of Mary, used as proof for revealing if a person was a witch. The Druids make amulets out of yarrow to protect the home from evil.

A hazel wand can be used as a charm against witches and thieves. Cut a hazel stick on mayday and draw a circle round yourself to protect against fairies, serpents and evil.

Do you know any love charms?

If you scatter marigolds on your pillow and you will dream of your true love, if you dream of marigolds this will bring you good luck.

10 Interesting Facts on Mediaeval Folk Healing

1 - They used honey on wounds to help them heal. This is effective due to the antibiotic nature of honey; honey contains hydrogen peroxide and height sugar content which kills bacteria by drawing the fluids out of the bacteria. The stickiness of honey also helps keep the wound closed.

2 - Wounds were also stuffed with cobwebs; the stickiness held the wounds closed. Cobwebs are naturally antiseptic and anti-fungal and contain vitamin k which helps the blood to clot.

3 - Sphagnum moss, known as Blood moss was used to mop up blood all through the mediaeval times and up to the First World War as its many times more absorbent than cotton wool, it deodorises the wound too which would have been important in the medieval times. But what they didn’t know in the medieval period was that penicillin moulds grow on the moss which we know is a powerful antibiotic.

4 - Live snails were used on minor cuts and burns. Snails have to travel over broken ground so must get small abrasions to their body all the time, this is why their slime contains: antioxidants, antiseptic, anaesthetic, anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antiviral, collagen and elastin. Snail gel is still used today. This is also an ancient aboriginal remedy.

5 - If all else failed then strong liquor or cauterisation (burning with a hot poker) of the wound was necessary.

6 - Medical diagnosis was based around the four humours, Blood, Phlegm, Yellow Bile and Black Bile, if you had too much of one then herbs for the opposite were given to balance you. Balance of the humours meant good health. The humours had personality types:

Blood: Sanguine, courageous, hopeful, playful and carefree.

Yellow Bile: Choleric, ambitious, leader like, restless and easily angered.

Black Bile: Melancholic, despondent, quiet, analytical and serious.
Phlegm: Phegmatic, calm, thoughtful, patient, peaceful.

7 - Tongue diagnosis, by the change in coating on different areas of the tongue medieval physicians could tell which organ was affected and to which humour was out of balance. A study of the urine was also made; the colour and sweetness (yes they tasted it!) proved which humours were out of balance.

8 - From China came the spices cloves and star anise. Cloves were used for numbing a toothache and star anise for bad breath.

9 - Olive oil dripped in the ear for ear ache to relive the pressure, a remedy still used today.

10 - Barbour surgeon’s pole with the red and white stripped spiral began by mediaeval Barbour surgeons putting up bandages on a pole to advertise their business; soon the bandages were just painted on a pole and then the typical Barbour red and white spiral still seen today

For more stories on the Loxwood Joust:

Spectacular mediaeval festival just weeks away